Facing the Grief


I am great in emergencies. I keep a cool head, find solutions quickly, and implement them instantly. I rarely think about how I’m feeling in those moments…I simply focus on keeping everyone alive, balanced, protected, and tended to. Only after I have seen for myself that everyone is OK and their needs are being addressed do I stop to pay attention to me. And then I completely crumple and fall apart.

I tend to do the same thing in challenging situations…particularly chronic ones. Somehow, I’ve created a pattern of “just getting through” with the ever-present hope that it will get better. Because I see and believe in potentials, my chronic optimism often blinds me to the inevitable that I so desperately want to ignore. I have such hope that people will “see the light” and change that it’s hard for me to walk away, because if I do, I feel like I’m giving up on someone…and what if I do give up just before the miracle?

Some people call this loyalty.

I used to be proud of this quality of mine…my steadfast loyalty…my stick-to-it-tive-ness…my persistence in relationships and never giving up on someone. But there was always a catch…I have yet to have another person or institution be as loyal to me as I have been to him/her/it/them. And that hurts. A lot.

On my last day at my job, I was asked not to come to my class to say good bye to my students. I was told that they wouldn’t even notice that the teacher had changed and that it didn’t matter. I told myself that she was just mad and that this was the last day she could treat me this way, but it still hurt…and it bothered me that I allowed her to succeed in her intention to hurt me. At assembly, where announcements are made to the entire school (including saying goodbye to people), not one word was mentioned that I was leaving or that it was my last day. Nobody acknowledged my years of service or expressed gratitude for all the things I had done for the school. I was devastated.  After everyone was dismissed, I sat in my seat fighting tears, waves of disappointment flooding me. One colleague came over to me and asked me if I was OK  I sighed and shared my disappointment. He nodded understandingly and replied that he was too…which was why he came over to check on me. I took my time going back to my office, and there on my desk were some flowers and a card from another colleague…also letting me know that she was sad that I was leaving and that she appreciated me.

I was deeply grateful for these kind gestures, but it didn’t undo the hurt of being ignored and unappreciated or not seen. I stuffed the emotions down so that I could “just get through,” and I suddenly stopped. I realized that I had been doing this for a really long time. I had been ignoring my unhappiness for so long, that I didn’t realize just how unhappy I had been…because I was so completely disconnected from my heart and my emotions. I had applied emergency coping mechanisms to a non-emergency situation, and in that moment I experienced a wee enlightenment. This combination of intense loyalty and disconnection had created a pattern of pain and disillusionment for me over and over and over again…and for the first time I now understood why.

One of my spiritual teachers teaches that one should only trust another to the same degree as that other trusts him/herself. Likewise, one should only be as loyal to another as that other is loyal to him/herself. Additionally, she teaches that our external world is a reflection of what is happening internally. So, if I’m feeling betrayed, somewhere I’m betraying myself. So, how did these teachings apply to this particular situation?

Firstly, I betrayed myself by disconnecting from myself. By ignoring my unhappiness and my reactions to situations, I was denying that there was any reason, validity, purpose, lesson, or value in those emotions. By ignoring them under the guise of optimism or “just getting through,” I gradually became so unaware of myself that I couldn’t see the inevitable. Rather, I kept clinging to the dying situation…trying to change it to what I wanted it to be…completely attached to the outcome I wanted…unable and unwilling to see that a different outcome was going to happen no matter what. I had judgments on that different outcome…that I would be a failure, that I would be abandoning all that I had worked so hard to achieve…that I would be an idiot and loser. Because of those judgments, I couldn’t see the possibility that I had learned all that I could learn in that situation and that it was time for me to move on…I was ready for something bigger, something more challenging…something more. By holding on to my judgments and disconnecting from my heart, I couldn’t see that the inevitability of leaving my job was actually the direction my heart really wanted to take…that it was a blessing…that it was the right and good thing to do. As long as I held on to the situation, desperately wanting it to be other than it was, I continued to betray myself.

Secondly, I realized that my loyalty was extremely out of balance. I have a lot of loyalty to share. But I realized that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I have to share it. I can be loyal to me…and in fact, that’s really where the loyalty belongs…to me. I had put my loyalty on so many people, situations, institutions, events, and processes, that I had very little left for me. Energetically, this was confusing me because I couldn’t determine anyone else’s loyalty so long as mine was outside myself. I realized that I could pull all my loyalty back to myself, and only share a matched amount with another…person, event, situation, institution, or process. As I adjusted my loyalty levels and came into balance, I noticed that I wasn’t depriving another of anything…rather, I was sharing from a place of abundance rather than getting the leftovers. I was honoring another more by matching him/her rather than giving more than he/she was able to receive. Then, as I began pulling all my loyalty back to myself, I realized that my attachment also came back to me…no longer on another or the situation or its outcome. With all that energy back on myself, decisions were easy and simple. It was so obvious! Why should I work so hard to stay in a situation where I am unappreciated and treated so horribly? How is that beneficial to me? How is that nurturing to me? How is that honoring me and my gifts and my magnificence to allow myself to continue in that situation? All of sudden, the hurt subsided…significantly. All of a sudden, my grief was internal…about me. I was mourning my betrayal and disloyalty to myself. I still desperately wanted the situation to be other than it was, and I still wanted justice and recognition and appreciation…but not at the expense of me…and not in place of me. I realized that I had the power to provide that for myself…it just was going to take some practice to change those patterns of co-dependence…those patterns of relying on something outside myself to meet my needs.

As I drove away for the last time as an employee, I realized how grateful I was to have learned this valuable lesson…one that had haunted me my entire life. I finally learned that lesson, and had flipped my practice from doing the opposite of that which I intended to master to practicing that which I intended to master.

I deeply love and appreciate myself.

I am loyal only to myself.

My heart is trustworthy.

The grief eased.

I breathed in gratitude.